Tuesday, 1 December 2015

5 Ways Louis van Gaal Can Make Manchester United Exciting Again

Manchester United are third in the Premier League but their style of play simply isn't what supporters have become familiar to.

"They're winning games but it's just not the Manchester United way."
Forward thinking: How can Van Gaal get the fans back onside?
Forward thinking: How can Van Gaal get the fans back onside?
How many times have we heard that this season? Probably too many for Louis van Gaal's liking.

United sit third in the Premier League - one point off top spot - and have Champions League qualification in their own hands going into the final group stage match. Yet the murmurs of discontent around Old Trafford are perhaps as loud now as they ever have been since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013.

The Stretford End faithful are used to witnessing fast-paced, concise, attacking football at the Theatre of Dreams but Van Gaal, particularly in the last two months, has brought anything but that to the table.
Underwhelming: Van Gaal's 'philosophy' has come under fire in recent weeks
Underwhelming: Van Gaal's 'philosophy' has come under fire in recent weeks
In the recent Champions League game against CSKA Moscow, Van Gaal and his floundering team were subjected to roars of "ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK!"

The frustration only subsided when a late Wayne Rooney header, one of only two worthwhile contributions by the captain all season, gave the side all three points.

Van Gaal's job isn't under any realistic threat as of yet, and, let's be honest, why would it be? The team are in a fine position domestically and a win against Wolfsburg on 9 December will guarantee qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League.

However, the Dutchman would certainly benefit from having a happy fan base. How can he ensure that is the case? You guessed it: play the Manchester United way.

Here are five ways Van Gaal can bring excitement back to Old Trafford...

1) Take Rooney out of the team

On the Wayne: Rooney's influence is diminishing, seemingly game-by-game
On the Wayne: Rooney's influence is diminishing, seemingly game-by-game
Van Gaal has preached Rooney's importance to the team after each cumbersome, ineffective performance the captain has delivered this campaign and it's time for him to wise up.

The average football fan can clearly see his influence has been on the wane for a number of seasons now, and that fact simply can not have gone unnoticed by the United boss.

However, where Ferguson would likely have revelled in dropping an off-colour Rooney, Van Gaal does the opposite and panders to his skipper.

We're now in December and the former teenage superstar has racked up just two goals and a solitary assist in 12 Premier League matches this season.
Barren: Rooney has scored just twice in the league this season
Barren: Rooney has scored just twice in the league this season
Whether age is catching up with Rooney or he's just suffering a drastically lengthy loss of form, it's time to take him out of the firing line - for his and the team's good.

He currently lacks the speed and agility to make a difference in an advanced role and his stint in central midfield last term displayed he's not disciplined enough to play in a deeper role.

Maybe a spell on the sidelines would do Rooney good and show him that he's not invincible.

2) Give Schweinsteiger the armband

Captain material: Schweinsteiger is a worthy skipper
Captain material: Schweinsteiger is a worthy skipper
Bastian Schweinsteiger has Manchester United captain written all over him - he just doesn't have the armband.

The midfielder is the captain of Germany and possesses the leadership traits required to drive forward a team lacking in inspiration.

Ring leader: The German is already a big presence
Ring leader: The German is already a big presence
The passion he displayed forcing a late winner against Watford and grabbing the equaliser against Leicester at the weekend underlined desire to succeed on English soil.

Unlike some of his team-mates, who appear to hide when the pressure is on, Schweinsteiger never shirks responsibility. He's always keen to get his foot on the ball and, while he may not have the same influence going forward as he did for Bayern Munich in his mid-20s, his presence makes United's midfield a much calmer, much more assured place.

At 31, and with a game which doesn't rely on pace, he has a good few years at the top ahead of him if he takes care of his body.

Taking the captaincy away from Rooney would also relieve some of the pressure from the England striker's shoulders, hopefully giving him the freedom to return to something like the free-scoring form he showed in 2011-12, although on current evidence that remains highly unlikely.

3) Give Pereira a chance

Neat and tidy: Pereira has shown flashes of talent
Neat and tidy: Pereira has shown flashes of talent
Wherever he has been, Van Gaal has carried a reputation with him for giving youth a chance, and to be fair to him, it's not been any different at United.

He has handed senior debuts to eight players since taking over, one of which was Andreas Pereira.

The Brazilian came on as a substitute against Tottenham last season and starred on his first United start as they beat Ipswich 3-0 in the Capital One Cup in September.
Starlet: Pereira has played just 11 minutes of Premier League football this season
Starlet: Pereira has played just 11 minutes of Premier League football this season
He's played just 11 minutes of Premier League action since then though, with Van Gaal seemingly reluctant to show faith in the youngster.

However, Pereira, although just 19 years of age, could slot perfectly into the position United are having most trouble with: the number ten role.

With his technique and vision, he has the potential to impact games. He has a few inches on Juan Mata, who struggles physically to cope in a central berth, while his first touch - a crucial attribute in this area of the pitch - is undoubtedly better than Wayne Rooney's.

If it fails, then that's fine – he's young and can grow into the role. But it seems strange that Van Gaal is unwilling to try one of the most obvious options in a position he is having such trouble with.

4) Play just one holding midfielder

Negative: Van Gaal plays two holding midfielders when it simply isn't necessary
Negative: Van Gaal plays two holding midfielders when it simply isn't necessary
They aren't given license to do much else, leaving just four attacking players tasked with breaking down teams who have set up simply to avoid defeat at Old Trafford.

The best example to use is the 2-0 victory against West Brom. United took almost an hour to snatch the lead, and that came by virtue of a long-range effort from Jesse Lingard. They then sweated on the result until Juan Mata converted a 90th-minute penalty.

Statistics showed United had 68 per cent of possession and the Baggies, who showed little to no attacking intent, mustered a measly four shots, none of which hit the target.

Van Gaal though, refused to alter his tactics and kept two holding midfielders on the field, making hard work for his attacking players.
Wonder goal: United relied on a fine long-range strike from Lingard get in front against West Brom
Wonder goal: United relied on a fine long-range strike from Lingard get in front against West Brom
This setup is, of course, sensible for tough away matches in the Premier League and in Europe, but sends the wrong message against the so-called smaller teams.

Perhaps a more appropriate formation would be the diamond, which essentially would see one holding midfielder replaced by a striker.

5) Sign a proven goalscorer

United haven't had a player guaranteed to score goals since the 2012-13 version of Robin van Persie.

The now Fenerbahce striker is the last player to net more than 20 times in a season for the club.

Unfortunately for United and Van Gaal, proven goalscorers of the highest class don't often come available in January, so this point may have to wait until next campaign.

Star: Robin van Persie netted 26 times for United in the 2012-13 campaign
Star: Robin van Persie netted 26 times for United in the 2012-13 campaign
Anthony Martial appeared as if he might be an instant answer to all of United's problems when he scored four goals in his opening four games after joining from Monaco for £36m, but he's netted just once in 11 appearances since then.

Granted, he's been deployed on the wing a number of times, and of course he's 19 years old and could yet go on to justify the entirely premature comparisons made between himself and Thierry Henry. But United need a proven goalscorer now, not in three or four years' time.

The obvious option would be Tottenham's Harry Kane, whose recent resurgence in form has proved his 31-goal season last time around wasn't just a flash in the pan.
Target: England star Kane would guarantee goals
Target: England star Kane would guarantee goals
Romelu Lukaku is another young striker also on a hot streak, but the chances of Everton selling him in January as they go in search of a top four finish is also unlikely.

A big money move for either player next summer, or a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, would certainly go some way to bringing the excitement factor back to Old Trafford.

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